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News Release

 
   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
   October 19, 2001

   (Amended 9:3opm)

George T. DiFerdinando, Jr., MD, MPH
Acting Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Laura Otterbourg or Dennis McGowan
(609) 984-7160

Update on Cutaneous Anthrax Cases in New Jersey

TRENTON -State and federal health agencies are recommending that all postal workers at the Route 130 Mail Processing Center in Hamilton Township and the West Trenton Post Office to see their private physicians and begin a seven-day course of antibiotics as a precaution while the criminal and health investigation of potential anthrax exposure at the two facilities progresses.

The medical protocols specific to workers at these facilities is posted on our website. The media is asked to print the protocols for workers and their doctors.

In addition, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are in the process of finalizing their response plan to the situation at the two U.S. Postal Service locations. The plan will address possible additional environmental testing and decontamination options.

Representatives of the DHSS, CDC and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collected environmental samples yesterday. Nasal swabs for selected staff may also be taken within the next couple of days. Details of this aspect of the response plan are still being worked out.

Results of the clinical and environmental testing conducted in the DHSS lab, as well as other information gathered during the on-going investigation, will impact what additional measures are needed to ensure the health and safety of postal employees and visitors to the facilities.

Yesterday, Acting Governor Donald T. DiFrancesco announced that one postal worker from the West Trenton post office has been confirmed as a definite case of cutaneous anthrax in testing conducted by the CDC, while a second postal worker stationed at the mail processing center in Hamilton Township is considered by the CDC to be a possible case at this time. In response to this finding, members of the DHSS and CDC met with U.S. Postal Service staff last night to discuss the elements of the response plan.

According to Acting Health and Senior Services Commissioner George T. DiFerdinando, MD, preliminary skin culture tests were negative as the patients had been on antibiotics before testing. Blood samples for both workers and a skin biopsy from one worker were sent to the CDC for further testing using special reagents. The skin biopsy was positive for anthrax. Serum specimens were positive for anthrax in both workers.

On October 13, 2001, both patients' physicians notified the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) after hearing about the cancelled letter from Trenton that was sent to New York City. They reported that their patients may have been in contact with the letter received by Tom Brokaw at NBC-TV. Both patients had been treated with antibiotics in late September to early October.

The DHSS received specimens from both patients on October 14th and cultures were performed that same day. Blood for antibodies was sent to the CDC also on October 14th. The skin biopsy was delivered to the State laboratory and examined by the State Medical Examiner on October 16th, which was then sent to the CDC and the FBI later that day. The CDC received the biopsy specimen on October 17th and reported results to DHSS on the morning of October 18th.

According to Dr. DiFerdinando, the state laboratory has received over 400 environmental samples, such as envelopes and packages, collected by law enforcement agencies from across the state. Testing on 65 of those specimens has been completed and all are negative for anthrax. In addition, 82 samples have tested negative in preliminary tests. The lab conducts preliminary (gram/spore stain) tests and culture tests on environmental samples and on clinical samples that meet established testing protocols. Testing on all environmental samples in the DHSS lab is final, while all clinical samples are sent on to the CDC for additional testing.

The Department has established a bioterrorism phone line at the Emergency Operations Center at 609-538-6030 that is open between 8 am and 11 pm until further notice. From 11 p.m. to 8 a.m., the number is 609-392-2020. Information is also available on the website at www.state.nj.us/health.

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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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